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Sunday, September 24, 2023


Prof questions Armenian genocide

The conflict between the Ottoman Empire and Armenians during WWI was a tragedy, but it was not genocide, despite widespread belief to the contrary, historian Justin McCarthy said at a talk Saturday at the University Hilton.

"What happened to the Armenians was so horrible; what happened to the Muslims was so horrible," McCarthy said. "(But) there has never been any credible evidence of any kind that the Ottoman government ordered a genocide."

McCarthy, a history professor at the University of Louisville, cited the bloodshed on both sides of the conflict as evidence that their deaths were not a genocide as the term is usually defined: the systematic deaths of an ethnic or religious groups out of hatred.

If anything, the conflict could be called a "mutual genocide," he said at the talk which was sponsored by the Turkish-American Heritage Society and Turkish PAC.

"When people think of the word genocide, what do they think of? They think of Hitler," he said. "Genocide is a word I think that should not be used any longer."

Efraim Zuroff, an Israeli historian and director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel branch, told the Jerusalem Post in August that the events should be categorized as genocide.

Raphael Lemkin, the Holocaust survivor who pioneered the term "genocide" was partially motivated to create the term in light of the suffering of Armenians, historians Peter Balakian and Deborah Lipstadt said in an editorial in the New York Jewish Week.

McCarthy said the most widely cited number of Armenian deaths, 1.5 million, is based on inflated pre-WWI Armenian population statistics. A differing and more accurate count, McCarthy said, puts the number of deaths closer to 600,000, which he bases on two censuses done individually by Turkish and Armenian political leaders.

The conflict emerged from a "poisoned atmosphere" encouraged by the Russians, McCarthy said, in which neither the Armenians nor the Muslims fully trusted one another.

During WWI, pockets of Armenians revolted all over the country, taking over cities, cutting telegraph lines and attacking roads.

McCarthy said the Armenian rebellion in 1914 was modeled after a Bulgarian revolution in the late 19th century. The Armenian revolutionaries hoped – just as has happened in Bulgaria – their activities would produce a violent response from the Ottoman Empire followed by intervention from Europe and their own independent state, he said.

"The intent is to have the Muslims retaliate," he said of the revolutionaries’ plans. "The intent is to attack Ottomans, to take over cities, to cause Turkish peasants to rise up and start slaughtering Armenians."

The plan did not spur European intervention, however, because Western powers did not want the Ottoman Empire to fall into the hands of the Russians after a defeat, McCarthy said.

During WWI, the Ottoman Empire faced not only civil war at home, but also the encroachment of Russia to the northeast.

"Everybody was involved in a civil war," he said.

McCarthy argued that Armenian revolutionary activities appear to be intended to help the Russians by disrupting communication and supplies to the fighting units. Armenian attacks on cities also kept Ottoman soldiers away from the fronts against Russia.

Many were killed on both sides of the conflict, McCarthy said. Two-thirds of the Muslim population of Van, a pre-dominantly Muslim city in the eastern Ottoman Empire, were killed in an Armenian take-over of the city or later died, he said.

Muslim deaths nearly always outnumbered Armenian deaths in the conflict, McCarthy said. In some areas Muslims accounted for over 80 percent of the dead. In Van, Armenian rebels destroyed homes and government buildings with malice, McCarthy said.

The Ottoman Empire’s re-location of 439,000 Armenians to Syria starting in 1915 led to the death of 20 percent of them, McCarthy said, but he attributed the deaths to bureaucratic incompetence rather than hatred.

"It’s the government; it screwed up. It didn’t know what it was doing," he said.

Some Armenians went to train stations and rode to their relocation site first-class; others were forced into difficult and deadly journeys on foot. McCarthy said more Armenians, who came under control of the Russians in the northeastern Ottoman Empire, died than those who were controlled by the Ottomans. About 50 percent, or 175,000, of the 350,000 Armenians re-located by the Russians died, and about 87,800 of the Armenians relocated by Ottomans died.

According to contemporary historian Arnold J. Toynbee, at least 250,000 Armenians died during the Ottoman deportations.

Many Armenians also remained settled in their homes throughout the conflict and were never re-located, McCarthy said.

After the conflict ended in the loss of the Armenian rebels, McCarthy said, the Ottoman Empire convicted 1,200 of its officials for the mass murders of Armenians. Many of those convicted, including one governor, were hung.

Such trials would not occur if the state had intended to annihilate the minority, McCarthy said.

"Of the Armenians who slaughtered Turkish villagers, how many were punished by their own people?" he said.

Although McCarthy said he believes many of the claims and assertions of those who label the Armenian deaths in WWI as genocide are wrong, he said he does not think they are willfully misleading others but have only heard one side of the issue.

"The people who believe it, believe it. They look on it as a genocide; they believe it’s a genocide," he said. "I think the Turks made mistakes for many years by being quiet about it."

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